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03 November 2018, 02:30 | Edward Lowe
Enlarge Image This illustration shows the probe nearing the sun. NASA Johns Hopkins APL Steve Gribben
NASA'sParker Solar Probe, mankind's first mission to "touch" the Sun, has set a new record for closest approach to the Sun by a human-made object, the U.S. space agency announced.
"The spacecraft passed the current record of 26.55 million miles (42.73 million kilometers) from the Sun's surface on October 29, 2018, at about 1:04 pm EDT (1704 GMT)", said a NASA statement.
The first record in history, in April 1975, was touched by the German-American collaboration Helios 2 which was also sent to observe the Sun.
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When the Parker Solar Probe makes its first pass around the Sun, on November 5, 2018, it will reach a closest distance (perihelion) of just 24.8 million km, and it will be travelling at a speed of 342,000 km/h. Parker Solar Probe's speed and position were calculated using DSN measurements made on October 24, and the team used that information along with known orbital forces to calculate the spacecraft's speed and position from that point on.At its current distance to the Sun, the probe requires 150 days to make a complete orbit. It will surpass Helios-2's speed record of 153,454 miles per hour (247,000 kilometres per hour), relative to the sun.
NASA has poetically described the Parker Solar Probe as a mission to "touch the sun". It is a few million miles away from the centre of the Solar System. These observations, gathered closer to the Sun than ever before, will help scientists begin to answer outstanding questions about the Sun's fundamental physics - including how particles and solar material are accelerated out into space at such high speeds and why the Sun's atmosphere, the corona, is so much hotter than the surface below.
Back in early 1976, the United States and Germany launched a joint mission, named Helios 2, to study the Sun.
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Nicky Fox, Parker Solar Probe's project scientist, added: "The Sun's energy is always flowing past our world".
The Parker spacecraft's first solar encounter will begin today.
The Parker Solar Probe team periodically measures the spacecraft's precise speed and position using NASA's Deep Space Network, or DSN. By learning more about the Sun, we will have a better understanding of how it affects Earth and other planets, and possibly improve our space weather forecasting.
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